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Inspirations for Wuthering Heights

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Emily Brontë's ''Wuthering Heights'' is an original and groundbreaking novel in many ways, but it was influenced by the culture around Brontë. This includes the real locations that influenced the novel's setting, the tradition of the Gothic novel, and the Byronic hero.

A Shocking Original

Wuthering Heights is the only novel that Emily Brontë ever published. When it first appeared in 1847, published under the pseudonym 'Ellis Bell,' the novel shocked Victorian England with its portrayal of unbridled passions. It sold poorly and was nearly forgotten before being rediscovered after Brontë's death. It is now considered one of the masterpieces of English literature.

The novel shocked its first readers because it seemed original in many ways, particularly due to its powerful lead character, Heathcliff. Like any work of art, Wuthering Heights did not come out of nowhere. It was influenced by Brontë's experiences and the literary culture of her time.

Brontë most likely modeled the novel's two houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, after real houses she had visited. In addition, the mood of the novel was influenced by the tradition of the Gothic novel, which was popular at the time and practiced by her sister Charlotte, among others. Finally, the character of Heathcliff has long been considered part of the tradition of the Byronic hero.

The 'Real' Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange

One of the things Wuthering Heights is best known for is its vivid description of its location, a pair of houses isolated at the top of a hill, miles from the nearest town. Wuthering Heights, the Earnshaws' home, is a renovated farmhouse while Thrushcross Grange, where the Lintons live, is the largest and finest house in the neighborhood.

The inspiration for Wuthering Heights is often identified as High Sunderland Hall, a large Gothic hall where Emily Brontë worked briefly as a governess. The hall was full of elaborate and grotesque looking statues similar to those Lockwood describes in his first impression of Wuthering Heights in Chapter 1. Thrushcross Grange is thought to be inspired by Shibden Hall which, like High Sunderland Hall, is near the town of Halifax. Like Thrushcross Grange, Shibden Hall was extremely isolated, sitting in the middle of an enormous, miles-wide park.

The Gothic Novel

The works of both Emily Brontë and her sister Charlotte, author of Jane Eyre, have been identified as Gothic novels. The Gothic novel describes a style popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Gothic novels tend to focus on ruined buildings, extreme landscapes and weather, spooky and possibly supernatural elements, stormy passions, and taboos like incest and necrophilia.

The Gothic tradition is usually traced back to Horace Walpole's 1765 novel The Castle of Otranto. Though little read today, it was a huge bestseller in its day and captivated audiences with its supernatural elements and vivid setting. Wuthering Heights contains many Gothic elements. The most obvious is the ruined, isolated, and spooky location of Wuthering Heights and its surrounding environment.

In addition, Wuthering Heights features a main character, Heathcliff, who is driven by passions. He crosses boundaries of race and class by taking over Wuthering Heights. Some readers have pointed out hints of incest in his relationship with Catherine, who is essentially his adopted sister, and even necrophilia in the scenes where Heathcliff views Catherine's corpse. Other examples of Gothic novels in the 19th century include Jane Eyre, by Emily's sister Charlotte Brontë and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

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